My take on the iPhone 5S, TouchID and iOS 7

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On the 18th of September, Singtel opened the floodgates, by allowing Sngtel mobile subscribers who registered their interest on the new iPhone 5S to reserve their phone for collection. The website for reservation was up at precisely 4pm. At 4.04, the gold iPhone 5S was sold out. 4 minutes. That was all it took to completely sell all available stocks on the gold iPhone 5S. I do not know how many were available for Singaporean customers, but according to Singtel, the reservations were given out to 10 000 customers. Those who reserved were able to collect on the 20th September, the official launch date of the new iPhone at the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition Hall. There, Singtel set up more than fifty sales counters to deal with the influx of customers waiting to get their hands on the new devices by Apple. I took the 8pm slot on the 20th. The counters were opened at 8am.

Reserving my slot was really smooth. At precisely 4pm, I immediately clicked to the link given by Singtel to place my reservations. Neither did the servers crashed or slowdowns experienced while using the site. Singtel did a remarkable job this time round in handling the sudden influx of customers who, like me, were making reservations too. I chose the Space Grey 16gb version. I recontracted my line, as it was due, and had to pay the subsidised fee for the phone. All in all, the entire process only took 20 to 30 minutes. It was fast and efficient from the moment I registered, to the moment I collected my phone.

So what’s my take on the new iPhone? By now, reviews on the iOS 7 and the iPhone 5S would have flooded the internet and traditional media newstream, with tech geeks, analysts, pundits and professional reviewers all adding to the cacophony to what they had to say about the new software and hardware. So I am not going to reiterated what they had to say. However, I would like to share my experience on the new phone, specifically on certain features, like the overall experience on the new iOS and the Touch ID fingerprint identification hardware placed on the home button.

The phone in general looks and feels exactly the same as the previous iPhone, the iPhone 5. I bought the Space Grey edition and it features a lighter tone than the black version, but not too light that it looks like silver. The colour looks great and sophisticated, despite what the majority said about  Gold being the new black that Apple released as part of the its new flagship phone. Now there are three colours available. Silver, Space Grey and Gold. Regardless of your  preference, you will be assured that each of the colours available looks absolutely fantastic, high-end, and wonderfully detailed.

The major addition to the new iPhone is the inclusion of the fingerprint identification feature located in the home button. The home button no longer featured the square logo printed on it. Rather, it now has a silver ring around the button, which acts like a sensor to indicated whether or not a finger have been placed there or not. The button is no longer plastic. It is replaced by sapphire crystal, which add sturdiness and longevity to the button and also serves to protect the CMOS sensor located underneath it. The CMOS sensor is there to take a ‘picture’ of your fingerprint, reads it and identify it, allowing you to unlock your phone once it is done scanning your fingerprint.

Fingerprint identification has long been in consumer devices, mainly in laptops. Those who wished for extra security can get a laptop with such a device installed on them. But in those early days, the device has been a hit or a miss. It is not 100% accurate and it requires a user to scan several times before the laptop can be unlocked. I have used it before and it actually becomes inconvenient and tedious to use. Typing a password could be far easier than scanning your fingerprint that does not have a 100% success rate. It soon became a fad, and newer laptop models no longer feature fingerprint identification in them.  The trouble is not worth using it to unlock and secure your device.

In Apple, as I used TouchID, it immediately became apparent, that they have perfected the art of fingerprint identification. I set up my phone to be able to read my fingerprint and the entire process was simple and elegant. It didn’t take long to masterfully recognise my fingerprint regardless of orientation, position or section of the fingerprint. It does the job extremely well in identifying that it is MY fingerprint. That means, you don’t have to perfectly align your finger onto the home button as you would when you ‘train’ your phone to recognise it. Because it is so intelligent, and robust, and with the ability to gather as much information as possible about my fingerprint, this new technology implemented in a phone, greatly enhances the user experience. And after using it a few more times, this piece of technology got out of the way and simply disappears. This is, by very definition, magical. It was once mentioned in the Apple iPad 2 commercial when technology gets out of the way and you are left with a user experience so wonderful, you don’t even think about it.

Technology is not enough.  Faster, thinner, lighter. Those are all good things. But when technology gets out of the way, everything becomes more delightful. even magical. That’s where you leap forward.

The recognition of the fingerprint is so fast, that once you click the home button to wake your phone, you need just a fraction of a second longer to place your finger on the button so that it can scan and identify the fingerprint. All of a sudden, Apple introduced a technology that seemed so seamless, that very soon you don’t even have to think about it or be aware that these things are running. Apple is never known to implement new technologies first. They are known to implement technologies that work right and implement those that would enhance the overall user experience. In this case, Apple decided to enhance security without adding complexity. Now that is a true work of art. Even if it just a singular new hardware feature that is prominently displayed on the new iPhone and little else externally, you cannot deny the fact at the amount of effort, thought and care put into implementing a new technology in the best possible way. You have to respect that. You can implement thousands of new hardware and software features on your next blockbuster phone or electronic device. However if it doesn’t firstly; enhances the overall user experience, secondly, perfect it to the point where it becomes natural and just gets out of the way, and benefits, greatly benefits the users in more ways than one, then that feature needs more thought on how to implement it correctly before you introduce it to your devices.

The iOS 7 is a new version of the mobile operating system that serves the iPhones and iPads. It was released in close conjunction with the launch of the new iPhones, as well as an effort to revitalise the flagging iOS that has become so successful in the past 6 years or so. Again, I am not going to write a thorough review on the iOS, which is available everywhere on the Internet with both opposing views on the pros, cons, good and bad sides of the iOS. Whether or not you like it or hate it, is completely up to you. Personally, I like it, mostly. However there is one aspect about the iOS that I find fascinating. And that is the close relationship between Apple iOS developers and app developers.

The most wonderful thing that I got out of this entire experience as I transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7 is the level of support given by prominent app developers to not only proactively update their apps to be compatible with the new iOS, but also implement design changes, sometimes, sweeping changes in how the apps are designed and run in anticipation of the new iOS. iOS 7 brought about a slew of design changes, design rules and philosophies that are shared to app developers. When these things are shared, something remarkable happens. Suddenly you received an influx of app updates and design changes that are in tune with how the iOS 7 generally looks and feels. This almost-universal look and feel between the iOS 7 and the apps is something that, I think, cannot be experienced elsewhere. This level of dedication for app developers to create and update their app that are so closely in tune to how the iOS 7 looks is phenomenal. Now, despite the fact that different apps are created differently by different developers you have apps that look so much more beautiful and consistent, with a high level of practicality in using them. The idea that they are singing the same song and in tune, is what makes using the iPhone and apps that comes with it so wonderful. When using the apps, it is all about the experience. The little details matter. So much so that everything falls away and you become focused on the content right in front of you, rather that be distracted in how to use and navigate your way around apps that look and feel differently from one another.

It is not perfect. Not all apps are updated immediately. Some will take time, while others would not even bother in complying or following the new user interface guidelines set out by Apple to make their apps more user friendly or beautiful. But at least you are assured that Apple is taking an active stance in assuring from the developers standpoint that they are doing all they can to give developers the best tools and help they can get to make their apps look wonderful.

Two things I have highlighted that made the biggest impression on me regarding the new iPhone and the new iOS. One being the implementation of a fingerprint identification technology and second,  the universal visual language of both the apps and the iOS 7 that makes for a consistent and truly remarkable experiences in using the apps. Together, they speak volumes on what Apple is doing that matters most; hardware and software in perfect harmony.

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